Your Trip to Oahu: The Complete Guide

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While Oahu is still a United States destination, the isolated location paired with the rich cultural and historical presence throughout the island makes it one of the most unique spots to visit on Earth. It is both the most densely populated island in the state and the island most popular with tourists, so be prepared to share space with plenty of fellow visitors from all over the world.

Take in the laid-back tropical scenery on Oahu’s north shore, or stick to Honolulu to enjoy the city life. Fans of hiking have the chance to marvel at beautiful ocean views or lose themselves in the many paths and trails within the rainforests. The abundance of local ingredients grown right on Oahu and fresh seafood caught in the ocean surrounding the islands help to make it a foodie’s paradise as well. We probably don’t have to tell avid surfers about Oahu’s many big-wave surf contests, but even novices can enjoy ocean sports like surfing, paddleboarding, and kayaking when the water is calm.

If you’re used to a fast pace in life, island-time may be hard to swallow at first, so don’t forget to pack some extra patience and enjoy yourself.

Use this guide to find the best ways to get the most out of your trip to Oahu, what foods not to miss out on, where to stay, tips for getting around, and much more.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: The weather is the best between April and June before it gets unbearably hot and before the peak of hurricane season. From September through mid-December the temperatures are pleasant and the tourist numbers are lower.

Language: The primary language spoken is English, but you will undoubtedly hear a wide range of other languages including Hawaiian, Ilocano, Tagalog and Japanese.

Currency: USD

Getting Around: Depending on where you’re staying, you may or may not want to rent a car. In Waikiki, the parking rates are high, and public transportation will take you pretty much anywhere you need to go while most tours and activities provide transportation as part of the package. The Honolulu city bus (“TheBus”) is super easy to use and a much more economical option. If you’re staying on the north side of the island, you will probably want to rent a car.

Know Before You Go: With Oahu’s high visitor numbers and focus on the tourism industry, it’s easy to forget that Hawaii has a deep respect for its traditions, culture and history. Be mindful of your surroundings, respect the land, the wildlife, and the people, and you’ll have a much better trip.

Things to Do

For Oahu first-timers, the obvious top choices are sightseeing, hiking, shopping, and cultural activities such as a visit to a local museum or a dinner show at a luau. Many people, unfortunately, miss out on the abundance of historical significance the island provides and its efforts to preserve the important remnants of ancient history.

  • Sightsee: Get out of the hotel to see this beautiful island! Rent a car for a road trip or book a tour with an experienced guide for an exclusive adventure.
  • Embrace the history: Oahu is home to the only royal palace in the United States, the Iolani Palace, right across from the state capitol building in Downtown Honolulu. A visit to the island isn’t complete without spending some time at Pearl Harbor or Bishop Museum, and experiencing a Hawaiian luau.
  • Get in the water: Head to Hanauma Bay for the most convenient place to snorkel (and some of the best views) or take a drive to one of Oahu’s best snorkel spots.

    Check out more options and attractions with our additional articles on the top things to do on Oahu, tips on getting out of the city and how to spend five days on Oahu.

    What to Eat and Drink

    Oahu is the culinary epicenter of the state of Hawaii. As the island with not only the most consumers but the largest number of tourists, it’s no wonder why many renowned chefs choose Oahu as the location for their restaurants. And, thanks to the diverse cultures and cuisines on the island, there are plenty of different types of expertly-prepared food to choose from. 

    Many of the restaurants on Oahu describe their food as Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC), a phrase coined by a group of prominent local chefs in the '90s. HRC uses a fusion of different ethnic culinary styles and techniques to create dishes with fresh local ingredients. It promotes using local produce and proteins instead of relying heavily on imported foods, which helps Hawaiian farmers, fishermen, and ranchers.

    As an international hub for the state with a large port and fish auction in Honolulu, the people on Oahu have access to some of the best seafood in the country. Hawaiian food staples such as lau lau, poke, pipikaula and imu-roasted kalua pig are a must.

    It’s not all about food on Oahu; there are also dedicated spots like Honolulu Beerworks and Kohana Rum brewing beer and distilling spirits using local ingredients like Hawaiian sugar cane and honey.

    Find the best eats with our guides to the best restaurants on Oahu, top restaurants in Honolulu and how to find local food off the beaten path.

    Where to Stay

    As a visitor to the island, there’s a pretty big chance you’ll be staying in Waikiki. The resort area is practically designed for tourists between the abundance of shopping, great restaurants, and centralized location for tour pickups. While you’ll find everything you need there in theory, our best advice is to get out and explore the island! For a quieter stay, look into places on the north side of the island in Haleiwa town or Kahuku (at the famous Turtle Bay Resort if you can swing it). The eastern and central parts of Oahu have fewer options in terms of hotels, so you’ll have to turn to private rentals or home-sharing sites.

    The only other resort-type area is in Ko Olina on the west side of the island, where you’ll find Disney’s Aulani Resort and a few more.

    Explore accommodation options with our extensive guide to where to stay on Oahu.

    Getting There

    With more and more flight options for getting to Hawaii popping up every year, it’s easier than ever to find a reasonable flight to Oahu. There’s only one major airport on the island, Daniel K. Inouye Airport (formally known as Honolulu International Airport), and it sees the majority of the 500,000 people who visit the island each month. Hawaii’s primary airline is Hawaiian Airlines, and it’s been around for over 90 years. Getting around Oahu can be done by rental car or by public bus, with several other sightseeing options localized to Honolulu such as the Waikiki Trolly and rentable Biki bikes.

    Oahu also has Uber, Lyft and taxis.

    Culture and Customs

    Learning a few words before you visit Oahu goes a long way. If you run across a sign that says kapu, for example, there’s a large chance that space is a sacred spot or burial ground that shouldn’t be entered. Words like wahine meaning woman and kane meaning man are super helpful in a pinch when you need to use the restroom, and mauka meaning towards the mountains and makai meaning towards the sea come in handy when getting driving directions from a local.

    Though Oahu is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean a few thousand miles from the mainland, tipping should be done as it would in other parts of the United States.

    You’d be missing out by not taking the time to explore the history and culture of Oahu. Learn more with our guide on how to explore Hawaiian culture on Oahu.

    Money Saving Tips

    • The visitor’s center at Pearl Harbor is completely free, including parking. There are views of the USS Arizona Memorial, views of the USS Bowfin Submarine, two walkthrough museums and several different artifacts throughout the property to explore. If you want to enter any of the attractions, however, a ticket is required.
    • Access to the hike at Diamond Head Crater costs only $1 for pedestrians and $5 for a car. The summit at the top offers some of the best coastal views of the south shore.
    • With all the lovely nature and fantastic weather, it would be a shame to miss out of one of Oahu’s best parks. Take a picnic lunch and enjoy the scenery, it’s free!
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